Comenius University News

Scientists have developed a more efficient method for detecting hazardous substances in wastewater

Bratislava 16 February, 2021: Hospital wastewater can contain dangerous substances called cytostatics which are used in cancer treatment. These substances can affect all living organisms that come into contact with sewage. Researchers from Comenius University were part of an international team which developed a more sensitive method for analysing and monitoring the contamination of the environment by these substances.

16. 02. 2021 09.33 hod.
By: External Relations Office CU

Cytostatics are chemical substances that kill cells and inhibit their division and are used for intensive cancer treatment through chemotherapy. However, they also have a whole range of negative side effects and are highly toxic. After they are administered to patients, approximately 50% are excreted in urine, leading to a systematic contamination of the environment. This may pose additional risks to human health and it is therefore extremely important to screen municipal wastewater for such substances.

"At the moment, sewage is analysed using various physical and chemical methods, depending on the requirements. The methods, however, are not sensitive to cytostatics and consequently they let them pass through," explains Associate Professor Radoslav Halko from the Faculty of Natural Sciences of Comenius University.

Due to this the team is now working on a new method of chemical analysis. It combines liquid chromatography to separate mixtures dissolved in a liquid, and atomic spectroscopy which makes it possible to precisely determine the concentrations of many chemical elements in a solution.

"These methods, combined with suitable sample preparation, offer high precision in capturing platinum compounds at trace to ultratrace concentrations. We expect to encounter these compounds in analysed samples of soil from cities as well as sewage sludge," says chemical analyst Radoslav Halko. These novel analytical methods will assist in monitoring the pollution of wastewater, sewage, sludge and the urban environment in general. The scientists are planning to take and analyse samples from sewers near hospitals, oncology institutes and urban soil at road intersections in several countries, including Slovakia.

So far this method of analysis has been used to measure concentrations of pollutants in three sewage treatment plants and in soil sediments on the island of Gran Canaria in Spain. The research collaboration involved Professor José Juan Santana Rodríguez, director of the "Environmental Chemical Analysis" Research Group who is also the head of the Institute for Environmental Studies and Natural Resources at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.

Together with his colleague Professor Edgar Hiller of the Department of Geochemistry Mr Halko works on a similar research into the presence of platinum cytostatics and chemical elements of the platinum group in soil, sediments and sludges.